Elephant float kerfuffle charges on

The ongoing drama over Glendale’s elephant-themed float for the Tournament of Roses Parade continued on Tuesday, with the builder of the design calling criticism from animal rights activists unfair.

Last week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organized a handful of protesters who waved signs in front of City Hall that said “Sink the Circus Float.” The protest came a few weeks after a resident likened the float to a symbol of animal cruelty.

But on Tuesday, Chris Lofthouse — president of Phoenix Decorating Company, the Pasadena firm that has built Glendale’s Tournament of Roses float for nearly two decades — said the critiques were based on an unfair interpretation of the design.

“My designers, the [Glendale] Rose Float Assn., the Parks and Rec and you as a council never intended to put the spin on this float that people have put on it with the cruelty to animals,” he said while addressing the City Council. “That was never the intent. I think it’s an unfair spin that was put on the float.”

By the time the float came up for council review, it was too late to change much since construction had already begun after a lower level committee and the Glendale Rose Float Assn., a citizens group that has traditionally selected the float design, gave the go-ahead.

“Despite the best intentions, there’s no doubt there are very negative connotations, very negative associations with elephants and circus elephants,” said Sharon Weisman, the resident who originally sparked the brouhaha over the float concept. “I am still appalled by the design and hope you can craft a way to mitigate the damage to Glendale’s reputation.”

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, PETA sent Mayor Laura Friedman two design sketches featuring an elephant surrounded by grass. Glendale’s float currently features an elephant wearing colorful anklets, a collar and trunk decorations while towing a chariot.

Lofthouse said construction on the float was already complete and not much more can be done. But Alisha Woempner, a PETA spokeswoman and Glendale resident, said PETA would be willing to donate manpower and design ideas to change the float.

Lofthouse described construction changes as a difficult process.

“There’s a lot more that goes into these Rose Parade floats that most of the public doesn’t understand,” Lofthouse said before holding up a large photo of the elephant’s smiling face.

Councilman Frank Quintero suggested the float’s title, “Stepping out in Style,” be changed in an effort to tamp tensions.

“I think it’s a very real issue for a lot of people,” Quintero said. “I think we should do something in terms of the theme, in terms of the title, and come up with something that is perhaps less offensive for people that are concerned.”

The City Council asked officials to think of a new theme in the coming weeks as the deadline for the Tournament of Roses program nears, although Friedman said she didn’t think changing the name would be enough to satisfy animal activists.

The overall parade theme this year is “Just Imagine.” A new theme would have to be approved by parade officials, who typically deny political statements, said Community Services and Parks Director Jess Duran.

“I think the float will be beautiful. It’s going to be stunning,” Friedman said. “Will it offend people in the country? We’ll find out.”

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